Courts Need Fewer Criminals

Rising housing costs mean that more people are homeless, and for multiple reasons. Someone without insurance could be rushed to the hospital, kept for three weeks, and come home to excessive bills and having missed utility and rental payments. Job losses have been a steady problem with the economy, or graduating from training and never finding an entry job. A death in the home of a sole earner can mean that the family is out on the streets. Whatever the reason, there are no guarantees that one will consistently be able to lock a door and call someplace home. Therefore, it is a victory beyond belief that Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has declared it illegal to jail homeless people when no other shelter is available.

During the Occupy ICE PDX protest in Portland, Oregon, the police attempted to arrest the protesters for trespassing on federal property. For the royal wedding in London, England, the police were asked to remove homeless people for the sake of wedding aesthetics. In the first case, the people were willfully residing in a place not their homes, and were able to find shelter once the encampment was dismantled. In the latter case, people who had not been able to find homes due to high cost of living in London were punished for life circumstances. Punishing people because the local economy has changed makes the justice system responsible for more than justice; such punishment begs the question of whether the local government accepts its responsibility for creating the circumstances.

No one has been able to solve the problem of affordable housing, but everyone knows that attractive areas have higher property values. Therefore, criminalizing homelessness is insidious on two fronts: 1) it punishes people for not having a place to live; and 2) it punishes people for lowering the local government’s capacity for extracting revenue (fines, bail, etc.). All of this is based on a supposed inalienable right to profit that so many private entities claim. In truth, no one is entitled to make money off real estate, and local governments should accept admonishment for the lack of discipline they have demonstrated when appealing to private interests.

The reality is that courts are being used to create the world the serves only the few, and that world is harsh and unforgiving. It should not be a crime not to subscribe to a reality that one cannot afford, nor should it be admirable to remove those whose existence is deemed unattractive. Local governments have a responsibility to everyone within their city limits, and it is a victory that the courts have finally affirmed that.

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